Leonardo da Vinci was the ultimate Renaissance man — literally and figuratively. Not only did he live during the Renaissance, but during that period, da Vinci made many major achievements across a variety of disciplines, including art and science. While most well-known for his painting skills, which produced such masterpieces as the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” da Vinci is also credited with conceptualizing several life-changing inventions. Although the potential of many of his creations wasn’t fully recognized during his lifetime, his ideas are often credited with paving the way for products we still use today. Here are five of da Vinci’s inventions that have made a major impact.
Da Vinci created the ball bearing at the end of the 15th century. Ball bearings allow for smooth movement of mechanical devices by reducing the friction between surfaces. While a ball bearing may not seem like a super compelling invention, it is a useful one. For example, in cars, ball bearings help the wheels rotate smoothly. In combustion engines, ball bearings help reduce fuel consumption.
Da Vinci didn’t embrace just different artistic disciplines, but different elements, too. In addition to creating blueprints for flying machines and parachutes, he also came up with a design for a suit to be worn by soldiers planning stealthy attacks on enemy ships.
His design was for a suit made of leather with a bag-like mask to be worn over a diver’s head. Two tubes were attached to the nostrils at one end and to a floating diving bell above the surface at the other, to let air in. The mask also had a balloon that could either inflate or deflate, so divers could sink or rise on command. While the design didn’t become well-known until after da Vinci's death, today’s diving suits bear more than a passing resemblance to his original vision.
The parachute as we know it today is largely credited to Sebastien Lenormand’s 1783 creation. However, da Vinci came up with the idea a couple of centuries earlier. On his sketch, dated 1483, he noted, "If a man have a tent made of linen of which the apertures [openings] have all been stopped up, and it be twelve braccia [about 23 feet] across and twelve in depth, he will be able to throw himself down from any great height without suffering any injury."
Of course, da Vinci’s design had issues. For one, it was made with linen on a wood frame, and the weight of that wood could have been an impediment to a smooth descent. Still, the basic concept of the parachute is clearly displayed in his drawing.
While it would be hundreds of years after da Vinci's time before robots hit the mass market, the artist is said to have made a beta version as early as the 1490s. He created a robotic knight that was operated by levers and pulleys and mimicked human movement. His early version made such an impact that today, there's a robotic surgery named in his honor. The da Vinci surgical system made history in 2000 as the first robotic surgery system to be approved by the FDA. While not actually a robot, the robotic-assisted system emulates a doctor’s hand movement while performing a procedure and helps keep complex surgeries minimally invasive.
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